He does ask himself whether his story will really be of that much interest, says Enzo Brumm right at the beginning of our conversation. 25-year-old Brumm is an acting student in his fourth and final year of study at the Max Reinhardt seminar. As a teenager, he was in the youth club at the Ernst Deutsch-Theater in Hamburg, and he’s now returning there for a production—as a full-fledged actor in a production of Don Carlos. Seated by a small fountain on a sunny autumn day in the courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier, he recalls in a likeably unpretentious way why he’s still embarrassed about his first audition, explains unconscious competence, and reveals which subject he found particularly annoying as an acting student.
When did you first get all fired up about theatre?
Enzo Brumm (EB): In my 10th year of schooling, I chose a theatre course because I thought I’d be able to get good marks in it without much effort. But then it turned out to be surprisingly fun, and when I learned just how difficult it is to gain admission to a state-run acting school, I thought: that’s something I need to try.
After finishing school, you first performed as a member of the youth club at the Ernst Deutsch-Theater in Hamburg. What happened there?
EB: What I participated in was called “Performance +”, and it wasn’t a classic acting club for young people: we developed our own programming. We were often given a topic to research. Then we’d gather together texts, do our own writing, and generally try out lots of stuff—all under the stage direction of Gesche Lundbeck. And while that was going on, I started applying to all kinds of acting schools.
How many attempts did you make?
EB: I ultimately did around 15 auditions spread over a period of three years—of which just one was here in Vienna. Some of them I took seriously, some less so.
Can you still remember your first audition?
EB: That was at the Ernst Busch Academy, where I got eliminated in the first round. Even just remembering it still feels awful. It was classic: a young guy straight out of school thinks he’s going to just walk in there and nail it. I’d chosen to play Macbeth, and all I did was shout for 10 minutes straight. Not so good.
What do you like about being onstage?
EB: I can think of a few things I might tell you as an answer, but I don’t even really know yet how it feels when you actually start doing theatre. The experiences you have while training, after all, might not be quite the experiences you end up having in your professional life. But the whole idea of putting on a costume and immersing myself in another world for a while is a wonderful one.
You’re currently in your final year here, and you’ve already landed an engagement: in early 2022, you’ll be appearing in a production of Don Carlos at the Ernst Deutsch-Theater. How does that feel?
EB: We’ve spent three years in a sort of safe space, here, and now we have to put ourselves out there. Having an engagement alongside my studies does help a bit with my fears about the future and with the kind of pressure that it’s totally normal to feel towards the end of your studies—even if it’s just one production for the time being. We’re performing Don Carlos en suite, and I think that will be instructive from beginning to end. I’ve never performed the same play 30 times in a row before.
You’ve just been through the “Absolvent_innen-Vorspiel”, where the Max Reinhardt Seminar’s graduating students audition collectively for an audience of theatre directors, and you’re also travelling to Neuss, Berlin, and Munich in November for the big collective audition put on by the German-speaking acting schools. Are you hoping to land a full-time engagement?
EB: I really am looking forward to doing theatre, and I’ll be excited to see what comes out of the graduate auditions. But it’s not like I’ve got this desperate dream or hope of definitely landing a full-time contract. I’d also be interested in doing performance art or going into film.
What subject’s gotten on your nerves the most while studying?
EB: A subject that I also ended up loving a whole lot: Karatedo. It is a type of karate where you spend 90 minutes repeating the ever-same movements, some of which are fiendishly difficult for your brain to coordinate. It also includes sequences that are really tough to memorise. So you have to concentrate and be patient, and that was often extremely nerve-wracking. But I think it was a really good way to train body awareness.
How have you developed since your experiences in the youth club?
EB: At school and in the youth club, I felt a lot freer because I was doing things with total conviction and giving myself over to it completely. Then came my student days. At our department, here, the learning process breaks down into four stages: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence.
EB: It means that you initially don’t realise that you have zero technical abilities—and you’re also incapable of reflecting on that fact. Once you’ve been made conscious of what needs work, be it language- or body-related, you go to work on it. Implementing what you learn results in conscious competence. And the final step, then, is unconscious competence: you rediscover a feeling of freedom, in general and in acting, with the difference that you’re now competent at what you’re doing.
And what stage are you at?
EB: Unconscious incompetence… (Laughs) I do notice that I’ve started trying to let go a bit of everything I’ve learned, to not always have this or that teacher’s voice in my head. And I sense how I’m regaining a feeling of liberated detachment. But the fact is, of course, that the learning process isn’t by any means over when you graduate. We’re still beginners, still in the absolute nascence of our careers … and still light-years away from unconscious competence.